Hellhole Of The Pacific

In our last episode of Amazing Race Pandemic, Robin and Duncan anxiously awaited results from the New Zealand Managed Isolation Day 12 COVID test. Negative Day 12 COVID tests removed the roadblock to enter a COVID-free New Zealand.

Scheduled to depart Managed Isolation on December 17, we packed the day before departure without knowing our test results. Leaving room 207 is happening – whether we detour to quarantine with a positive result or start the final leg to Christchurch airport with a negative result.

The Wellness Team rang at 6 pm with the good news – negative results! After months of planning, changing and executing our return to New Zealand, anxiety drifted out the window and excitement arrived – we may actually make it to our first destination – Russell in the Bay of Islands.

Only a few remaining obstacles stand between Room 207 and the final stop – final wellness check at 7 am, luggage outside the door at 8 am, breakfast in room, military escort to reception for checkout, bus ride to airport, flight to Auckland, pick up rental car, drive four hours to Opua on the “wrong” side of the road, take car ferry to Russell and find the Arcadia Lodge. Easy peasy – what could possibly go wrong?

Even though the flight left Christchurch 45 minutes late, we managed to make one of the last ferry’s from Opua to Russell. Duncan’s muscle memory for driving on the wrong side of the road – through traffic, construction and shoulder-less winding roads makes me think we could win at least one leg of the real Amazing Race.

Upon arrival at the Arcadia Lodge, home for the next 30 days, hosts Peter and Greg welcomed us with hugs, warmth and “You overcame many obstacles to get here. Rest. We will see you at breakfast”. Hugs, no masks, open businesses, summertime. Sitting on the porch sipping a glass of wine at 10 pm reflecting on the opportunity and effort to be in New Zealand during this challenging time left us feeling incredibly grateful.

Upon sailing into the Bay of Islands in 2004, we fell in love with towns and islands in the area. In particular, the quaint town of Russell topped the list of places to spend more time. Russell marks important chapters in early Maori and European settlements in New Zealand

As noted in Bay of Islands History, “Long before Captain Cook’s visit in 1769, Russell was an established settlement of various Maori tribes. Its name at that time, Kororareka, reflected a legend that a wounded chief asked for penguin and on tasting the broth said ” Ka reka to korora.” (How sweet is the penguin.)

From the early 1800s, South Sea whalers found Kororareka ideal as a provisioning port. The town grew in response, gaining a reputation as a lawless and bawdy port, and earning the nickname Hellhole of the Pacific.”

Maori first arrived in New Zealand traveling across the Pacific from Hawaii in wakas – voyaging canoes.

A ceremonial war canoe, Ngātokimatawhaorua, was built to mark the centenary of the Treaty of Waitangi’s signing in 1940. The canoe was named after the original canoe sailed to Aotearoa New Zealand by Kupe, the legendary discoverer of New Zealand.

Captain of HMS Endeavor, James Cook, arrived in New Zealand in October 1769. Cook gave the Bay of Islands its English name and declared the area “a noble anchorage”. In the Russell Museum, a 1/5th scale model of the Endeavor is quite impressive.


In present day, Russell is the antithesis of a hellhole. Fresh out of two weeks of managed isolation and nine months of San Francisco COVID shelter in place, we longed for dining in restaurants and socializing in person. Russell delivered.

A short distance from Russell lies one of the most historic and defining places in New Zealand – Waitangi. The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840 by the British and Maori chiefs, defined the terms whereby New Zealand became a British colony. Three principal tenets laid the foundation for the agreement – partnership, participation and protection. Discrepancies between the English and Maori versions led to conflict and confiscation of lands. The Treaty of Waitangi Act passed in 1975 included the treaty in law and established the Waitangi tribunal to investigate breaches of the treaty.

New Zealand’s oldest surviving church is located in Russell. Charles Darwin and other crew on the HMS Beagle are reported as contributing to the church construction. The gravestones reveal interesting historical events including the First Maori war.

Darwin visit on HMS Beagle. he Beagle’s captain, Robert FitzRoy, would later serve as the second governor of New Zealand.

“During his stay in New Zealand Darwin collected insects, shells, fish, rocks and a gecko. His detailed observations were carefully recorded in his journal of the Beagle expedition, which was published to much acclaim in 1839. He later wrote that the voyage had been ‘by far the most important event in my life, and has determined my whole career.’ But he did not remember New Zealand fondly. The country was unattractive; its English inhabitants, apart from the missionaries at Waimate, were ‘the very refuse of society’; Māori lacked the ‘charming simplicity which is found in Tahiti’.”

Regardless of Darwin’s opinion on New Zealand, I imagine he found the insects and plant life interesting.

At Waimate, FitzRoy and Darwin were pleased to find an oasis of English civilisation, complete with cups of tea and cricket on the lawn. Darwin approved of the Māori labourers and maids – the latter’s ‘clean, tidy and healthy appearance, like that of the dairy-maids of England, formed a wonderful contrast with the women of the filthy hovels in Kororadika [Kororāreka]’.

We always keep our eyes on the lookout for silly sights and interesting mailboxes – New Zealanders are creative and filled with good humor.

As you can tell by the smiles, this “hellhole” is not such a bad place. Luckily, we get to hang out here for another two weeks.

6 thoughts on “Hellhole Of The Pacific

  1. Hey guys, great Blog! You have inspired Fleur and I to think about our journey in chapters!
    Keen to hear where you “land” regarding what and where next 😉
    Cheers
    Ian and Fleur

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ian and Fleur. Great to meet you. Good luck with the boat search. Chapters – that is a great way to capture our journey. Cheers.

      Liked by 1 person

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